I realized something had to give this past August, when I went down to Celebration, Florida, with my mom for a family funeral. Celebration, for those that don’t know, is the Disney Company’s own Stepford, master-planned to have the look and feel of the happiest town in America (I should have known this was a recipe for disaster going in). The minute I walked into the deceased’s house, I thought I was absolutely going to fall down and die because the place was chockfull ceiling to floor with Disney memorabilia. This, combined with the unbearable awkwardness of having had relatives I hadn’t seen since I was two cry on my shoulder all day, proved too much for me to handle, so I made a beeline for the minibar. I probably had six glasses of red wine in total before I ran into the widow.

She caught my arm as I was drunkenly staggering into the kitchen, and complimented the one Disney accent in my entire wardrobe, a small Piglet decal on the underside of my iPhone. “I play Piglet!” she exclaimed brightly.

I was happy that she was happy, but I didn’t quite understand. “Excuse me?” I slurred. I then listened for 10 minutes as this tiny 70-something-year-old woman told me how she worked at Disneyworld as a cast member (i.e., one of those people in costumes).

“Is that why you moved to Celebration?” I asked warily.

“Well, no,” she said. “Mostly we moved to Celebration because it’s the ultimate Disney souvenir!”

“Excuse me,” I said again, and found my way to guest bathroom, where I proceeded to vomit all over the tub. The next thing I knew it was two in the morning, and I was back in the hotel room with my mom.

It was so much more embarrassing than the old-folks’-home incident—who gets blackout drunk at a funeral reception? As horrifying as it was, I kind of needed something like that to show me that my priorities were way out of whack. Some things are just not OK, even when you’re a relativist.

I’m now in college, where it’s easy for people who are particularly susceptible for whatever reason to the allure of drugs and alcohol—people like me—to get a little carried away. It’s particularly challenging because here, the party never has to stop. There are about a hundred things going on any given weekend night, and they’re all within walking distance, so you never have to worry about your parents driving you around (or even knowing where you are or what you’re doing). You can keep booze and weed and whatever else your little heart desires right there in your room, and as long as you’re not a loud idiot about it, nobody in authority ever has to know. It might sound like paradise, but it can easily turn into hell. (Because remember that whole higher learning thing? You also kind of have to save some room for that, too.)

The Celebration Affair had been a wake-up call, and so, when I got to college, I decided I might as well head the whole descent-into-hell thing off at the pass; I started seeing the drug and alcohol counselor of my own accord. And you know what? It was awesome. She was really cool and she listened to what I had to say and didn’t judge me and laughed at stupid things I’d done that were funny, because she knew that I was smart enough to know that they were stupid. She helped me to make sense of the chain of events that led up to my puking in a newly dead man’s bathtub. And she worked with me on harm reduction, which I’d never heard of and which I thought was especially cool because it meant that I could still drink (and smoke weed, I’ll admit it) on occasion and in moderation.

So, if I could go back and time and stop little Lexie from sipping those sips at Hayley Anderson’s party, would I? Probably not—I might stop her from going outside with that jerk, but, hey, we all have to come up against some jerks sooner or later—but I would definitely give her some advice:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can have concerns about your lifestyle (or anybody else’s lifestyle for that matter) without having a “problem,” and you can have a “problem” without being an alcoholic or a drug addict. And should you find that you are an alcoholic or a drug addict, that’s OK, too, because it doesn’t mean that your life is over and you can’t ever have fun again. There are people who can help you deal when stuff gets a little hairy, and these people include drug and alcohol counselors, friends who are smart and not unduly judgmental (but also not crazy party animals who can hardly take care of themselves let alone advise you), and (le sigh) even parents.

2. Try not to lie. I ended up spending the better part of three years lying about who I was with and what I was doing, and let me tell you, it is a job of work; your energies are better spent elsewhere. If you’re doing something you have to lie to your parents about, you would probably be better off not doing it, at least until you’re out from underneath their All-Deciding Parental Thumbs. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Slow your roll. There is plenty of time to throw caution to the wind and experiment in all kinds of ways. I’ve just realized by the time I become “legal,” it will have been six years since I started drinking. Again, I could definitely have used those six years to try other stuff that might have been more constructive. Like reading up on what can happen to you when you’re under the influence of alcohol so that I wouldn’t have had to find out what a blackout was the hard (read: funereal) way.

4. Do your research. I CANNOT stress this enough! If you are determined to do drugs, go online and find a number of reputable sources with information about what you should do to minimize the risk. Anything with a .gov or a .edu is likely to have some good scientific information, but obviously a lot of it is seriously biased in the don’t-do-drugs direction, which is only going to piss you off if you’ve already set your mind to it. For something a little edgier, try erowid.org. They have great information about history, legality, dosage, and long-term and short-term effects. The experience vaults (aka “trip reports”) are useful too, but bear in mind that they recount the experiences of randos and that you should take them all with a grain of salt.

5. Watch Brazil sober. Really, it’s a good movie, and you will just not understand it if you try it any other way. I mean it. ♦

Lexie K. is in her first year at an imitation East Coast liberal arts college in Southern California, where she spends most of her time playing Scattergories with the campus cat, snorting crushed-up little pieces of Goldfish crackers, and lamenting the fact that she has no future in the current economy by repeatedly banging against her head against various hard surfaces.

* All names have been changed, for obvious reasons.